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Poll: Plurality support abortion restrictions after 20 weeks

As Republican-led legislatures have worked to restrict abortion in many states, a plurality of Americans say they support efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks, assuming the mother’s life isn’t in immediate danger, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they support banning abortions taking place 20 weeks or more after fertilization, while 37 percent oppose it. Twelve states have passed laws restricting abortions after that time, most recently in Texas after a high-profile debate. That battle featured a lengthy filibuster by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis who attracted national attention for her efforts but did not stop the eventual passage of the law.

Gov. Rick Perry will sign new restrictions that ban abortions in Texas after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Even nearly one in five who call themselves abortion rights supporters are in favor of a ban after 20 weeks.

“Some commentators have used the 20-week ban debate as an example of cultural overreach,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart . “Instead, with a robust argument on both sides, we find a plurality of American supporting a late-term abortion ban.” 

Still, a majority in the poll say they are more concerned about the GOP going too far to promote a conservative social agenda than about Democrats pushing a liberal one. Fifty-two percent say they are concerned Republicans will go too far on social issues like abortion and gay rights, versus 43 percent who aren’t concerned.

By comparison, 51 percent say they aren’t concerned Democrats will go too far and an even wider 55 percent saying the same of President Obama.

On the broader issue of abortion, Americans continue to be split. Forty-nine percent believe abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, while 48 percent say it should either be illegal with exceptions or banned outright.

“It’s not simple,” McInturff added.  “People’s abortion position starts shifting when they hear the debate, and they hear the arguments.  The data tells you that the activists on this issue still heavily weigh to the right-to-life side.”

There is a striking divide when it comes to intensity. Among those who believe abortion legislation should be a high priority for state and federal lawmakers, a combined 70 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

And among those who think it should be a low priority, 65 percent say it should be legal either always or most of the time.

Other states, such as North Carolina and North Dakota, have also been debating – and passing – 20-week restrictions.

North Carolina, which has seen hundreds arrested this year in protests against the newly installed conservative legislature – in what’s become known as “Moral Mondays” – pushed through laws with stricter regulations on abortion clinics that opponents argue would likely shut down most of the facilities in the state. It is also weighing prohibiting insurance providers from covering abortions if insurance is purchased through a state exchange under Obamacare this fall.

And a federal judge this week blocked North Dakota’s abortion ban, days before it would have taken effect. The law, the most restrictive in the country, would have made the practice illegal after six weeks -- when a fetal heartbeat can be detected -- and would have effectively shut down the only abortion provider in the state.

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would effectively ban most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.  Senate conservatives have suggested they may attempt to introduce similar legislation but passage is very unlikely in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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